First off the race was on March 19, 2016, which is early in the season for a Toronto residence living in the snowy flat lands. Add to that the trash talk going on the facebook page and I found myself reaching out to Sean Blanton the race director in early January to talk me off the ledge. He did a great job. If anyone out there reading this knows Sean, then you know that although he loves the trash talk he is also the most encouraging guy out there. Just do one of his runbumtours to find out. I did the Canmore one, couldn’t get a better yankie to show this canuck around her own country. 😀
Anyway, I digress. I was committed now, but that didn’t stop the doubt. This was going to be a lot of climbing.
My nerves were not subsided either, when I arrived at the kit pick-up at the beautiful Amicalola Falls Lodge to find coffins and deadly snakes all around. Really folks what race lets you hold a python at check in. Pretty awesome!
The race started at Vogel State Park at 8am. Reasonable time. However, as many racers know it always starts much earlier than that. I was up at 4am to get ready and drive myself to Amicalola State Park (30min away from my hotel) to catch the shuttle at 5:15am for the 90+min drive to the start. Final check in, drop bag drop off and pick up of the iron stake we all had to carry throughout the race. Very heavy and dirty, but with all the other mandatory gear it didn’t make much of a dent.
Nervous chatter, introductions with fellow runners, pictures, final wise words from the RD and we were off at 8am.
The forecast had originally called for rain and cooler temperatures. Although it was overcast the temperature was warmer than expected, making the air thick and humid. I was drenched within the first climb.
The first 28miles/45km to the Point Bravo drop bag #1 had the majority of the big climbs. So I just hunkered down into a good pace and ran when I could. It was actually quite enjoyable at my reasonable pace. Leaping frogging with other racers, chatting, commiserating as to when this darn climb would end.
On one climb me and this other guy starting counting the false summits. We lost count quickly. Then the humour set in, when I started to think these false summits were like tantric sex. Just bringing one to the brink only to stop and then take you further. Until you/we are begging for the climax, I mean summit. Once we thought we couldn’t take it anymore, it came…the peak. Now we get to go down. My favourite part. 😉
Then we hit Lick Log trail. I can’t make this stuff up.
This course was everything I expected it to be. Awesome, challenging climbs and fun steep quad busting downs. All the racers were happy and encouraging. The volunteers were beyond anything I have ever experience. They were so in tune with what you needed and how to get it to you fast.
On the only out and back section, which was a long steep down to a an aid station with fire ball and chocolate as it’s theme a little girl offered me her homemade chocolate bomb. She adorable saying, “Would you like a chocolate bomb? I made them all by myself. I don’t have many, but I’ll give you one.” I felt honoured and couldn’t resist. I was delish and exactly what I needed for the gruelling climb back up.
Trekking poles are not allowed on this race, even though they would have been totally helpful. However, as I had a made my way down this out and back I saw many coming up using branches from the forest. You can call it cheating all you want but I used one and passed one back to another Canadian doing the race. This is what got me ahead. It gave me the little break I needed and pushed me forward.
I arrived the Point Bravo (28miles/45km) 9min before my expected time for 8 hours. This gave me enough time to change my soaked shirt. I don’t usually change clothes, but I was so drenched from the climbing and humidity I thought I’d freeze once the sum went down. Also, 2min before I arrive into the aid station it started pouring, only for a minute but enough to really soak me and scare me into taking my gortex jacket with me, which was in my drop bag. l am sorry to say I flashed more than a side boob to those around me as I changed. I have yet to perfect how to get a sportsbra onto a sweaty torso quickly and gracefully. Regardless, I was out, dry, feed and hydrated with pickle juice and climbing again.
Lots of beautiful trails, leaping frogging, chatting and the sun even made an appearance.
Once you leave the 41mile/66km aid station we get a break with about 6miles of gravel rounds. Sounds awful, I know and usually I’d agree, but in this case it was a welcome change and allowed me to put on some speed. There was a solo female that had passed me earlier and threesome (2 females, 1 male) that I could see walking along the road. I was determined to catch and pass them and I did, making a lot distance up before the sun began to set.
I got into Winding Stair just after night fall and the temperature began to drop and I needed a coffee. Alas they didn’t have any. I had some lukewarm soup and headed out quickly. I caught up to a pair of guys I had seen earlier in the day, unfortunately we hit a road section my nemesis and they were off. This was probably the most uncomfortable section of the race for me. Flagging was amazing on this race, and even on this section but my mind was messing with me as I shuffled alone on the dark Georgia roads. Big F-150 pick up trucks went flying by and no one was a head or behind me as far as I could see. I started to hate my headlamp for not being strong enough or my legs for not running fast enough to keep up with the guys ahead of me. After less than 2km, but what felt like forever I was safely back in the trails. This was the home stretch.
For the rest of the race I kept leap frogging with the pair that had been ahead of me, as well as 2 other pair of guys that had caught up to me and one solo male. I was on the look out for any females. I was not getting passed at this point, I told myself.
I was really thankful for the talkativeness of these guys as I was really getting drowsy. Again, there was no coffee at Jake Bull aid station. Well, they said they had instant coffee, but no hot water, just ramen noodles. I didn’t think my stomach would take that combination well.
I did finally get coffee at the last aid station with 9miles/14km to the end.
I was feeling great. Quads were a little achey, but I was moving forward well and was pretty sure I’d get this done under 21hours, which is what I had calculated.
I voiced this to the solo fellow just ahead of me. He paused and then said, “No way! That’s not right.” He proceeded to argue math with me. I don’t care if it is 3:30am and I’ve been up for almost 24hours my math is never wrong. As I now ran ahead of him I explained the math to him and took off letting him mull it over it.
A few minutes later he was coming up behind me thanking me for setting him straight. He was renewed and passed me effortlessly. He had convinced himself with his flawed math that he would not reach his goal. After being corrected he was invigorated. This why I love line I believe Ray Zahab famously coined, “Ultra running is 90% mental, and the rest is in your head.”
I was truly happy for this guy. But I wasn’t going to let him pass me. #sorrynotsorry
As we headed back into the twisty trails we stuck together as did the other 3 pairs of guys. We could see the finish line, but it wasn’t for us yet. We still had a huge climb and another down to do.
We started the climb together, it was all stairs. 175 +425=600 steps along the Amicalola Water Falls. The falls made a beautiful sound, but could only be seen from our headlamps.
Soon I as alone. All 7 guys had passed me. I could see there headlamps on the steps ahead as I followed. But this is a mental game and we all still had to go back down via the road and trail.
Once I reached the top I could see them scattered down the road. I hammered the pavement, passing the first pair. One of whom said, “Impressive.”
I passed the next pair. Then the next. Finally the solo guy on the final twisty trail section. I ran the last trail section all alone and reached the bridge. It was flagged off. We were made to go through the river for our final 10 feet.
Done! Spike in hand! Smiling!
The next day I went back to enjoy the falls in the daylight and see many ambition trekkers start the Appalachian trail. This is truly an amazing place to experience and Sean with the help of an incredible group of volunteers put on amazing race. A must do for ever ultra running.
Final time was 20:49;27. (Apparently under 21hrs allows you to apply to Western States) More like 70+miles/112km.
Final thoughts: I didn’t make my ultrasign-up prediction time of 17:49, but I always thought that was bogus. I am happy at how great I felt throughout this whole race and afterwards as well. I truly enjoyed every part of this race. I didn’t do as many long runs as I would normally, but my trainer was focused and I owe that to my coach Jen Segger at http://www.challengebychoice.ca/